- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) - With a runoff increasingly likely in Georgia’s tight gubernatorial race, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is rallying his conservative base in north Georgia while Democrat Jason Carter is getting a boost from his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, who’s appealing to black voters in some of the state’s largest metro areas.

The two campaigns are crisscrossing the state in the final days before the Nov. 4 election, holding rallies from Cornelia to Columbus. Polls suggest neither candidate will claim a majority needed to avoid a runoff and that a third-party candidate, Libertarian Andrew Hunt, could draw up to 6 percent of the vote.

On Monday, Deal had rallies in six cities across north Georgia, home to the state’s largest concentration of Republican voters. Those voters were key to a GOP sweep of statewide offices in 2010. Carter spent the day in south and middle Georgia, joined by his grandparents and Reps. John Lewis and Sanford Bishop for a rally in the parking lot of a predominantly black church in Columbus.

Former President Carter said his grandson was running “to help people in need.”

“All of us are in need of freedom. All of us are in need of equal rights and that’s not being done in Georgia now,” the elder Carter said.

It was his third public appearance on behalf of his grandson’s campaign, and he’s expected to rally voters in metro Atlanta this weekend.

The race has largely come down to whether Georgia voters feel like the state’s economy is moving in the right direction or has fallen behind amid the recession.

Deal, a former congressman seeking his second and final term, tells voters Georgia ranks sixth in the nation in job creation and that growing revenues allowed for the largest increase in education spending in seven years.

“You know we’re getting beat up on ads from our opponent who wants to tell you how bad Georgia is, how low we are,” Deal said at a weekend rally. “We’re doing a lot of things right. Jobs are coming to Georgia.”

It’s a very different message from Carter, a state senator from Atlanta, who says Georgia has the worst unemployment rate in the nation and that middle class families in the state are making less on average than they did a few years ago. His latest TV ad also criticizes Deal over the state’s inadequate response to a January snowstorm that crippled the metro area.

“Georgia has no business at the bottom,” Carter said Monday. “If this is the best the governor can do, we need a new governor.”

Carter has also hammered Deal on ethics, citing allegations the governor’s team interfered with a probe of ethics complaints into Deal’s 2010 campaign. Former President Carter referenced the scandal as he told how his grandson had wanted to meet Nelson Mandela.

“(Jason Carter) said, ‘Papa, I want to meet a man who went to prison before he went to office.’ I’m not going to try to say anything about the incumbent governor,” the former president said, trailing off as the crowd began to cheer. “Jason represents honesty, integrity, openness.”

That prompted a rebuke from Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson, who said “Jimmy Carter also believes in UFOs and that President Obama is reading his emails. That says more than I ever could about his grasp of reality.”

Jason Carter said his grandfather was joking and responded to claims by Deal that he’s a political opportunist with aspirations for higher office.

“I’m glad the governor has such faith in my leadership potential but I have absolutely no plans to do anything but serve this state as governor to the best of my ability for the full eight years,” Carter said.

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Follow Christina Almeida Cassidy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_Christina.

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